Here in the west, we’ve become familiar with the “Big 3” Japanese Bonsai Potters: Tofukuji, Yusen, and Kozan. But our familiarity with these potters would have been impossible without Heian Koso(平安香艸 or 香草), who made these potters famous in Japan in the 1960s and 70s. Koso, whose real name was Choso Kawai(河合蔦蔵), was a bonsai heavyweight in his time, the third generation proprietor at Koso-En, from 1938, in Kansai, which he made famous as its Bonsai master. The Nursery, founded in 1877, still operates today, with three locations, including one in Omiya and a Bonsai farm outside of Kyoto. The Kiln at the nursery was started by another great heavyweight, Wakamatsu Aiso, contempory and friend of Heian Tofukuji, both of whom were part of a group of potters that trained Heian Koso.
Heian Koso is well known for his Kiyomizu painted porcelain pieces, as well as glazed and unglazed pots. One can readily see the influence of Yusen, Tofukuji, Kozan, and Aiso in his work. In addition to making these Japanese potters famous, he is also often credited with helping make bonsai pottery a sustainable profession in Japan, as before he popularized Japanese pottery, it was impossible to earn a living making bonsai pottery alone. Let’s take a look at his work.
A common motif in bonsai pottery painting, and Japanese art in general: Choju-giga, anthropomorphic animals from old handscroll paintings. This one depicts the contest between the rabbit and the frog.